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Advice for someone new to camping.. but desperate for (idea of) a Cali?

andyinluton

andyinluton

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And I would miss the Cali’s neat table-and-chair storage - we’d have to work out an alternative to that

You could always fit the tailgate trim from a California with the chairs - they are quite often available on ebay. The door trim with the table in is also available but obviously only fits on a drivers side slider.
 
Quentin SF

Quentin SF

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Ah, thanks, Andy - I hadn't considered that they might be available and fittable separately... interesting.

One nice feature you get on some of the Bilbos, if they have a seat or cupboard by the sliding door, is a short bit of table rail on the outward side, so you can at least clip the internal table on outside. Not really something to sit around, but handy nonetheless.
 
Bellcrew

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Ah, thanks, Andy - I hadn't considered that they might be available and fittable separately... interesting.

One nice feature you get on some of the Bilbos, if they have a seat or cupboard by the sliding door, is a short bit of table rail on the outward side, so you can at least clip the internal table on outside. Not really something to sit around, but handy nonetheless.
We looked at the Nexa for the same reasons you have, my wife also thought the cooker at the back/standing option would be better but when she tried it felt the bodywork/shelf over the cooker partially hid the hob and made working on it difficult. Obviously anything smaller than a full sized Winnebago is going to be a compromise, you pays your money..............
 
andyinluton

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Having survived week long holidays with 5 plus a dog, a few other points:

In wet weather an awning - whether drive away or just sides on the roll out one, is the place to leave a wet dog, towels, coats , shoes etc.

Cooking - the hob in ours is used for egg & bacon sandwiches, boiling water for coffee, heating up soup & the occasional pasta. In summer the barbecue comes out. In winter we tend to end up in the pub for dinner. One of our main selection criteria for choosing a site is where can we walk to for dinner.

My Mrs idea of a holiday does not include trying to cook for five on two small gas rings!

Did you try dragging the downstairs topper up to the upstairs bed ? might have given you the best of both worlds.


In the Bilbo Nexo the Single rib seats still use the cab seats to form part of the bed, I can't see that being a more comfortable basis for a bed than the cali. Whilst you are left with more space at the rear of the van theres no large storage area when the bed is up. If you need to carry an awning for example if you leave it on the floor at the back you can't use the kitchen.

I looked very closely at Bilbos prior to buying our Cali 4 years ago, I don't know what spec base vans they are using now but when we looked they were using the smallest engine basic van & by the time you had upgraded the engine, & wheels & body coloured bumpers etc it was coming out more than the cost of a cali.
 
Quentin SF

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Hi Andy -

They can build them based on any van, really, so the 204 DSG is an option. We test-drove a 150, though, and it was fine - it's actually a bit zippier than the equivalent California because the vans are lighter.

Thinking about the Cali upstairs bed: I think it's 1.2m wide? If so, then perhaps having two of these side by side would be a good and compact solution?

Q
 
mccp

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@Quentin SF Friends of ours have had a LWB Bilbos van for several years which they use a lot and they really like it. Bilbos are certainly have a very good reputation as converters.

The downside of the LWB van is that it doesn't completely fit into a standard length parking space. That may not be a problem for you, but when you start to consider something bigger than a Cali, you should maybe also look at some of the smaller motorhomes as well. They obviously have more space and all sorts of different layouts.
 
Katjas

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Hello All -

Some thoughts a week after our 4-night trial in the LTH T6 Cali... and it was a bit of a trial, because it rained every single night and quite a few of the days too! Drying things was a bit of a challenge. At the end we agreed that if we'd known about the weather, a VW campervan isn't the accommodation we'd have chosen! On the other hand, the fact that we lived in something not much larger than a car for four days in that weather, and were still married at the end of it, says something for the California :)

Overall, it performed excellently, but there were a couple of things that didn’t work so well for us.

Firstly, my wife wasn’t too keen on having to do all the cooking sitting down. Yes, you can stand up, but the worktop is really a bit low for that - it needs to be, to give you the view out of the windows (and I really did like the almost-360-degree view when we were having lunch on the quay at Brancaster Staithe).

More seriously, the beds weren’t all that we’d hoped. The top one we found uncomfortable, and the bottom one, though with a much better mattress and topper, was rather cramped for us. Rose, who has a few back problems to contend with, got about one good night’s sleep out of the four. I got about two and a half. I think we could make it work if we carried around a good mattress-topper for upstairs, and probably if we slept one-up and one-down. (Anyone ever tried an inflatable mattress upstairs...?) And of course, just getting more used to the environment would also help. But we do feel that if we’re going to buy a van, then looking forward to getting into bed at the end of a long day is important!

Lastly, everything was a bit cramped inside for two of us plus wet coats plus dog plus moist towels for all three of us, when we were unable to do very much *outside*. The Cali was great for day trips or weekends with a night or two in good weather, we felt, and that is, after all, mostly what we're looking for, but it made us consider alternatives again.

So on Saturday we went down and spent most of the day taking a much more careful look at Bilbo’s offerings, and we liked what we saw. Having searched this site for all references to them, I do understand the pros and cons compared to Calis - they are probably as expensive, some things like the heating are not as well integrated, some people don’t like their unusual roof (though I think we prefer it - it’s certainly extraordinarily quick to raise and lower), the trim isn’t quite as plush, it doesn’t have the flexibility of a big and expandable boot space and yes, you can’t take it to any VW van dealer for habitation stuff. I get all of that.

Against all of that, however, is a kitchen that works a bit better for us, a much greater ability to customise things to our needs, a firm with a very good and long-lived reputation, and beds that are more spacious and quite a bit more comfortable than the Cali's, even without toppers.

The Celex has a bed which is slightly shorter but noticeably wider than the Cali’s and (as a result of also losing the chair storage in the tailgate) leaves a comparatively huge amount of available floor space when the bed is down, including lots of room *under* the foot of the bed itself. Particularly handy for dog sleeping space! We found the cupboards and sliding doors worked better than the Cali’s timbre ones, and were easier to open and close when in bed.



We’re mostly tempted, though, by the Nexa, which has two RIB single seats that turn into single beds, leaving a gap down the middle so you can still walk up and down the van while both beds are down. During the day you can have one of them down and put cushions along the wall giving a bench seat with a view out of the sliding door. And there’s also an option where the seats will slide together, with a fill-in at the side, to make a double bed that, at 5’2”, is even wider than our one at home! The kitchen (at the back) is great for our needs. There is a loo, which we probably wouldn’t even carry because if you take it out there’s a good side cupboard, but if you did want one, it’s more discretely tucked away at the back. And if you want more space in any of their vans, you can just order a LWB version. Because of the Nexa’s layout, you can even have sliding doors on both sides if you want!

I think the key things I’d miss from a Cali are the large boot space - there’s probably just as much storage in the Nexa but it’s distributed in smaller chunks - under seats, in cupboards, etc. This would be an issue if we wanted a more general and flexible load-carrier. And I would miss the Cali’s neat table-and-chair storage - we’d have to work out an alternative to that (we have some ideas, but any recommendations for good compact packages welcome!).

Anyway, we haven’t yet made a decision, but I thought others might be interested in our feedback so far. I realise, too, that I’m posting in a Cali forum - I don’t think there’s a Bilbo’s equivalent where I might get the other point of view! - but you guys seem pretty good for balanced and constructive suggestions! Thanks for your help so far!
We have found that Helinox make very small, very comfortable and stupidly expensive chairs, beds and tables. We needed to save the space with two children and tent, cooker etc in the back of a car in the years BC.
We travel with four Helinox Chair 1's permanently in the back of our Picasso MPV where they fit in the floor gap behind the back seats. They look ridiculous but they are perfectly comfortable as the only chairs for a two week camping trip. The only trouble with them is that they are so low to the ground that you then also need to use a Helinox table or a table with adjustable legs.
https://www.helinox.eu/chairs/chair-one-2982.html
 
Quentin SF

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If so, then perhaps having two of these side by side would be a good and compact solution?

I realise that the link on the word 'these' is not very obvious above. 'These' are 60cm wide self-inflating camping mats...

I also realise that I spelled 'discreetly' wrong in my original post. Apologies to anyone else who winced at that... :)
 
2into1

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If you are looking at non-Cali layouts, do take a look at the Westfalia City Joker.

The bilbo nexa is in my view very short on storage but big on usable space. I came from an older Westfalia T4 Exclusive which had 3 separate living areas in a LWB van. The ability to get away from each other on those wet days is very useful (one plays cards, one cooks, and a separate loo / dressing area). It was also a high / hard top. A brilliant van for camping, but not as an everyday vehicle.

But as @andyinluton says, there is no where to put a bagged awning and use the van at the same time.
 
andyinluton

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I think the only answer is hire a Blbo & test the beds.

Compared to the average motorhome I reckon the Cali beds, even without additional toppers are pretty good. Our old roller team had a 3 inch slabs of foam supported on a sheet of ply as the main downstairs bed, that was constructed from 6 different cushions two of which formed the base of the main seating area. After a weeks use from brand new there were big dips & gaps opening between the cushions.

I actually find the cali upstairs bed with no topper more comfortable than the bed at home, it might just be that theres more fresh air, exercise & alcohol making me sleep better.
 
Quentin SF

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If you are looking at non-Cali layouts, do take a look at the Westfalia City Joker.

Mmm, yes, they do look nice, but they also make the California look cheap :)

The other layout I really like is the Autosleeper Topaz, but they don’t make them any more...
 
Eber123

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Hello Quentin SF,

We got our van only end of last November. Since then we simply had no time to use and test the camper properly. My wife and I are one of the group who actually never went camping in the last 30 years....:(.

I was hoping with only two adults and a small dog (Bison Frise) we will have some room in the van. But I also believe that the storage space in the California is limited.

For the cooking I hope that we can use the gas for tea / coffee and small cooking but stock up the fridge with ready food (M&S). I am looking for either the Quest oven (which I need to check if it can decently heat up ready meals) or the Daewoo QT1. If the Quest can heat up the ready meals I would prefer this.

I was hoping to store the device on the shelf in the cupboard. Hoping to keep the cooking to a minimum but with a maximum on outcome (... hopefully yum...).

But I hope in the next few weeks we finally can put the California and us to the test.

Eberhard
 
Borris

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Hello All -

Some thoughts a week after our 4-night trial in the LTH T6 Cali... and it was a bit of a trial, because it rained every single night and quite a few of the days too! Drying things was a bit of a challenge. At the end we agreed that if we'd known about the weather, a VW campervan isn't the accommodation we'd have chosen! On the other hand, the fact that we lived in something not much larger than a car for four days in that weather, and were still married at the end of it, says something for the California :)

Overall, it performed excellently, but there were a couple of things that didn’t work so well for us.

Firstly, my wife wasn’t too keen on having to do all the cooking sitting down. Yes, you can stand up, but the worktop is really a bit low for that - it needs to be, to give you the view out of the windows (and I really did like the almost-360-degree view when we were having lunch on the quay at Brancaster Staithe).

More seriously, the beds weren’t all that we’d hoped. The top one we found uncomfortable, and the bottom one, though with a much better mattress and topper, was rather cramped for us. Rose, who has a few back problems to contend with, got about one good night’s sleep out of the four. I got about two and a half. I think we could make it work if we carried around a good mattress-topper for upstairs, and probably if we slept one-up and one-down. (Anyone ever tried an inflatable mattress upstairs...?) And of course, just getting more used to the environment would also help. But we do feel that if we’re going to buy a van, then looking forward to getting into bed at the end of a long day is important!

Lastly, everything was a bit cramped inside for two of us plus wet coats plus dog plus moist towels for all three of us, when we were unable to do very much *outside*. The Cali was great for day trips or weekends with a night or two in good weather, we felt, and that is, after all, mostly what we're looking for, but it made us consider alternatives again.

So on Saturday we went down and spent most of the day taking a much more careful look at Bilbo’s offerings, and we liked what we saw. Having searched this site for all references to them, I do understand the pros and cons compared to Calis - they are probably as expensive, some things like the heating are not as well integrated, some people don’t like their unusual roof (though I think we prefer it - it’s certainly extraordinarily quick to raise and lower), the trim isn’t quite as plush, it doesn’t have the flexibility of a big and expandable boot space and yes, you can’t take it to any VW van dealer for habitation stuff. I get all of that.

Against all of that, however, is a kitchen that works a bit better for us, a much greater ability to customise things to our needs, a firm with a very good and long-lived reputation, and beds that are more spacious and quite a bit more comfortable than the Cali's, even without toppers.

The Celex has a bed which is slightly shorter but noticeably wider than the Cali’s and (as a result of also losing the chair storage in the tailgate) leaves a comparatively huge amount of available floor space when the bed is down, including lots of room *under* the foot of the bed itself. Particularly handy for dog sleeping space! We found the cupboards and sliding doors worked better than the Cali’s timbre ones, and were easier to open and close when in bed.



We’re mostly tempted, though, by the Nexa, which has two RIB single seats that turn into single beds, leaving a gap down the middle so you can still walk up and down the van while both beds are down. During the day you can have one of them down and put cushions along the wall giving a bench seat with a view out of the sliding door. And there’s also an option where the seats will slide together, with a fill-in at the side, to make a double bed that, at 5’2”, is even wider than our one at home! The kitchen (at the back) is great for our needs. There is a loo, which we probably wouldn’t even carry because if you take it out there’s a good side cupboard, but if you did want one, it’s more discretely tucked away at the back. And if you want more space in any of their vans, you can just order a LWB version. Because of the Nexa’s layout, you can even have sliding doors on both sides if you want!

I think the key things I’d miss from a Cali are the large boot space - there’s probably just as much storage in the Nexa but it’s distributed in smaller chunks - under seats, in cupboards, etc. This would be an issue if we wanted a more general and flexible load-carrier. And I would miss the Cali’s neat table-and-chair storage - we’d have to work out an alternative to that (we have some ideas, but any recommendations for good compact packages welcome!).

Anyway, we haven’t yet made a decision, but I thought others might be interested in our feedback so far. I realise, too, that I’m posting in a Cali forum - I don’t think there’s a Bilbo’s equivalent where I might get the other point of view! - but you guys seem pretty good for balanced and constructive suggestions! Thanks for your help so far!
It sounds to me like the California Beach would tick many of your boxes.
Much more space inside, a much bigger downstairs bed, 360 degree all round vision, greater versatility and much less complex. It's also cheaper. You will need the VW Comfort mattress option and possibly a topper as well if sleeping downstairs but the bed is huge. You loose the kitchen but gain much more room instead. IMO it's more versatile that way. You can still have a self contained removable fridge freezer and cooker that can be left at home if you aren't camping. It also makes a brilliant day to day vehicle for general duties.

Try one out and you'll be suprised at just how much more flexible they are than the purpose built camper van. You'll also quickly discover that you'll be able to do all the same things but with much more space. The only downside to the Beach is that the essential parking heater is an optional extra and not a standard fitting.
 
Last edited:
Quentin SF

Quentin SF

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It sounds to me like the California Beach would tick many of your boxes..

Hi Borris - yes, the Beach is certainly interesting for all the reasons you suggest. But by the time you had added pods with a fridge, a stove, a sink fresh and waste water and the associated storage space for clothes, food, etc... would you still have more space than an Ocean? Presumably not.

The bed size is certainly appealing, though, and the price!
 
Borris

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Hi Borris - yes, the Beach is certainly interesting for all the reasons you suggest. But by the time you had added pods wituh a fridge, a stove, a sink fresh and waste water and the associated storage space for clothes, food, etc... would you still have more space than an Ocean? Presumably not.

The bed size is certainly appealing, though, and the price!

It would depend on what you class as being essential. However nice they are, you really don't have to go buying pods for the Beach to make perfect sense.

We have a large top loading Dometic/Waeco self contained 12/24/240v fridge freezer which is also handy as a seat or foot stool. We secure it to the floor rails during transit. This type of fridge/ freezer can stay inside the van or be removed to your awning whilst camping thereby freeing up more space inside. You can use these units in your van, your awning, your house or anywhere that there is a suitable power supply. So they're allow for much greater flexibility than a fixed built in one. They use very little power and are virtually silent.

You can also cook inside the Beach using a campingaz or similar cooker of your choice. Just open a window, plonk it on the table and Bob's your uncle. It will also take up a fraction of the room of the conventional Cali stove when not in use. This type of cooker can also be used outside under the awning or elsewhere in nice weather. You could even leave it at home whilst you eat at the pub, again allowing for greater flexibility and space.

As for fresh and waste water, we merely buy those cheap 3 litre supermarket bottles of still water which we refill until they are past it. The grey water can be sensibly disposed of outside when finished with. Why carry it around with you? There are no tank sterilization isues, no frost related water supply problems, no complicated pipework, electric pumps, taps etc all with a potential to get blocked or go wrong at some point. We just use a large collapsable washing up bowel or preferably the site facilities with hot water which are usually a much better option than trying to wash up in your tiny van sink.

Most Beach owners design their own storage around their personal needs using various boxes of their own choice. We employ several "Really Useful Boxes" which live in the boot. Again, there is nothing fixed to the van so you are in charge of what and how to store things. When not being used as a camper van it can all come out thus turning the vehicle into an excellant general purpose family car.

Even if you were to buy pods with all this sort of thing built in, the big advantage is that they can be removed on site and placed in your awning whilst camping or in the garage/shed when not in use.

So if you buy a conventional camper van, everything will be permanently built in whereas if you were to buy a Beach it isn't ard you would be able to adapt it to your ever changing personal requirements. Simples.
 
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GillianC

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It would depend on what you class as being essential. However nice they are, you really don't have to go buying pods for the Beach to make perfect sense.

We have a large top loading Dometic/Waeco self contained 12/24/240v fridge freezer which is also handy as a seat or foot stool. We secure it to the floor rails during transit. This type of fridge/ freezer can stay inside the van or be removed to your awning whilst camping thereby freeing up more space inside. You can use these units in your van, your awning, your house or anywhere that there is a suitable power supply. So they're allow for much greater flexibility than a fixed built in one. They use very little power and are virtually silent.

You can also cook inside the Beach using a campingaz or similar cooker of your choice. Just open a window, plonk it on the table and Bob's your uncle. It will also take up a fraction of the room of the conventional Cali stove when not in use. This type of cooker can also be used outside under the awning or elsewhere in nice weather. You could even leave it at home whilst you eat at the pub, again allowing for greater flexibility and space.

As for fresh and waste water, we merely buy those cheap 3 litre supermarket bottles of still water which we refill until they are past it. The grey water can be sensibly disposed of outside when finished with. Why carry it around with you? There are no tank sterilization isues, no frost related water supply problems, no complicated pipework, electric pumps, taps etc all with a potential to get blocked or go wrong at some point. We just use a large collapsable washing up bowel or preferably the site facilities with hot water which are usually a much better option than trying to wash up in your tiny van sink.

Most Beach owners design their own storage around their personal needs using various boxes of their own choice. We employ several "Really Useful Boxes" which live in the boot. Again, there is nothing fixed to the van so you are in charge of what and how to store things. When not being used as a camper van it can all come out thus turning the vehicle into an excellant general purpose family car.

Even if you were to buy pods with all this sort of thing built in, the big advantage is that they can be removed on site and placed in your awning whilst camping or in the garage/shed when not in use.

So if you buy a conventional camper van, everything will be permanently built in whereas if you were to buy a Beach it isn't ard you would be able to adapt it to your ever changing personal requirements. Simples.

Excellent points. If I was replacing my SE I would seriously consider a beach. Travelling on my own I really don’t need much stuff but fill the cupboards because they are there! In practice I don’t use most of the contents. Before I bought the van I thought that I would use the water, sink and hob but in practice I don’t, preferring to eat salads etc from the fridge or eat out.
 
Digger

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The Beach suits many people but as an Ocean owner who sticks to the wild wilderness areas in bad weather conditions the Ocean comes into its own. Others can disagree but the layout and practicality of the Ocean reigns supreme as a campervan.
 
Quentin SF

Quentin SF

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Many thanks, all -

Borris, you make a very good argument, and I'm going to look more carefully at the Beach.

We dismissed it initially, on the basis that we'd probably want everything the Ocean provides, so why not get it packaged nicely by VW? Especially since we don't have kids to move about, and so we seldom need quite as much people-and-luggage-carrying flexibility.

However, it's an interesting idea that we might want everything the the Ocean provides, but not necessarily in the layout that VW offers, and that the Beach plus some accessories might let us do that, save money, *and* sleep in a 5ft-wide bed! We might have to rent one of those for a couple of nights to try,

The two-seater bench looks like the one to go for - it's a pity they make the bed not only wide but also very long. Sadly, I need width more than length! :) And I would value the lost floor space. Perhaps a Beach with a shortened rear shelf would be the perfect combination...
 

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